Toronto Zoo

Survival Guide to Parent-Teacher Interviews

It’s getting to be about that time when schools schedule their parent-teacher interviews, which can sometimes be an unpleasant experience (on both sides of the desk, I assure you). As a parent, especially if your kids have special needs, or learning disabilities, or behavioural issues, there are some stresses involved in sitting down with people you don’t know very well and having them evaluate your kids’ progress. It can feel as if your parenting is under scrutiny along with their academic and social performance.

Now, I don’t get all that worked up about these meetings myself, but my wife certainly does (she generally leaves them to me), and I’ve heard many parents on the school ground and at adoption support groups express real apprehension about them. So, as my way of helping, here are some tips for a successful parent-teacher interview.

1) Go prepared. If there are things you’re concerned about or things you’d like to know, write them down so you don’t forget them. If there are issues that you suspect the teacher will want to address, figure out how you’d like to respond in advance. Have a chat with your kids to see if there’s anything they want you to talk about with their teachers on their behalf. Preparing in this way will make you feel more comfortable going into the interview and make sure that you say everything you and your kids think needs to be said.

2) Don’t take it personally. Remember, this isn’t about you. It’s about your kid. It might feel like your parenting is being judged (and sometimes it might be), but your job isn’t to defend your parenting style or your self-image. Your job is to help your kids succeed and to get the support that they need. Staying focussed on the needs of your kids rather than yourself will help you pick your battles and make the most of your time with the teacher.

3) Treat the teacher with respect. No matter how frustrated you are with some issue, no matter how much you disagree with the approach the teachers are taking, remember that they’re people too. Most of them work really hard to teach your kids and take a genuine interest in their students. Even if you think they aren’t doing these things, your kids will still have to deal with them for the rest of the year, so you may as well try to keep the relationship as positive as possible.

4) The teacher might be right. It’s easy to disregard criticism of our children and to excuse their faults. That’s natural. We want to protect and encourage them. We want to see them succeed. On the other hand, for that very reason, sometimes other people are able to see things in our kids that we can’t see ourselves. If teachers have concerns with your kids’ behaviour or their school performance, take the time at least to consider the possibility that they might have identified something that needs your attention.

5) The teacher might be wrong. It’s also easy to assume that teachers (given that they’re educational professionals) are always right. The thing is, you know your own kids in ways that teachers never can. You know the things going on outside of school that might affect their behaviour and ability to learn. So, do take the teachers seriously, but also don’t be afraid to respectfully disagree and to advocate for your kids and the things they need to be successful learners.

6) It’s not the end of the world. Really. It’s not. Whether your kids are doing great or they’re struggling with something, whether the teachers are happy or concerned, whether you’re getting along with the teachers or not, there’s no point in getting too worked up about it. If there are problems, you should absolutely go looking for some solutions, but don’t stress yourself out about it. There are many successful people who acted up in Grade One or didn’t learn to read until Grade Four or who had a teacher they hated in Grade Eight. These are not unsolvable problems.

You’ll get it through it. I promise.

Luke Hill has been the parent of birth kids, adoptive kids, foster kids, and just-need-a-place-to-stay kids for fourteen years. He’s had experience with kids in homeschool, public schools, and alternative schools. He’s been a teacher, a camp counsellor, and a coach. He’s also taught parenting courses for Children’s Aid for almost a decade. When he isn’t working with kids, he’s a writer, a publisher, and the director of a non-profit organization that supports book culture.